On May 19, I will be the first person in my family to graduate college.
The day I was born, my parents set up a bank account labeled “college fund.” Every night after dinner, my mom looked over my math homework while my dad sat in the living room reading the paper shouting from across the house, “You’re going to college.”
I’m sure they dreamed that I would become a doctor or lawyer, make lots of money, and buy them a retirement home in Florida, but I believe they were equally happy when I selected English as my major. I would call home weekly to report my progress on reading Moby Dick.
But my college graduation will be a bittersweet occasion because, unless something changes, I will be one of the last people to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a Bachelor’s in English.
On March 5, in response to a $4.5 million budget deficit, my university proposed Point Forward: the elimination of 13 majors in the humanities, social sciences and art, and the expansion of 16 majors with clear career pathways.
That day, our university was divided into winners and losers. Students whose majors were being phased out and students whose majors were receiving more funding. (And it’s no consolation that the school will still maintain some liberal arts classes and minors. It’s not the same.)
For years, people majoring in English, philosophy, and art have been the butt of the joke. A few times I’ve been asked: “Want any fries with that major?” But I valued my English major, and I trusted my administration did too.
But on March 5, English and 12 other majors were made the butt of a much sicker joke, the implications of which are much more serious than passing comments about me serving french fries.
These implications deal with the accessibility of higher education for students everywhere.
Almost six months ago, my cousin, Simeon, said he wanted to become a writer. As soon as he said this I jumped and started telling him everything about Stevens Point’s creative writing minor, the amazing professors and all the opportunities to volunteer and teach writing to younger high school students. He was enrolled up until the day Point Forward was announced.
Then he withdrew his enrollment and began looking for other colleges.
I want to look back and be proud of my university. But I’m afraid I will only be able to look back with sadness. Our majors, which have long been the backbone of the proud tradition of liberal arts education at our university, are being silenced. The research and contributions we have made will not be passed on. No one will follow as we followed. The tie that binds one generation to the next will be severed. All that will remain is our eroding educational system. May we call it ours?
I’m afraid for our future. I’m worried that Stevens Point is starting a chain of defunding and devaluation of the humanities in public four-year comprehensive universities. I am scared of what that could mean for students like me and Simeon, and for our parents who sacrificed for these opportunities.
Olivia de Valk is a graduating senior at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and one of the leaders of Save Our Majors protests at the university, trying to preserve liberal arts majors, and pushing for a counter-proposal to be presented on May 3 to the campus community.